I am so excited to share Jessica Bickley Cho’s amazing journey! She found Zumba on her quest to balance out stress in her life and maintain her health. Throughout her journey, Jessica has discovered a depth of compassion and acceptance for herself. The unexpected gift that kept her coming back to Z Club NY was the community she found – “Through all of this, I have met a group of women who are positive, supportive, and share my value of and focus on living a healthy life. Getting to know them has deepened my life and opened my heart – I wouldn’t change that for the world!” … – by Yali Szulanski for Z Club NY
How has taking classes with Z Club NY benefited your life?
Taking classes at Z Club NY has benefited my life in so many ways. I’ve experienced physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Diabetes runs in my family, and while I don’t have diabetes at this point, I have a mild form of insulin resistance that if not managed well results in low blood sugar, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, brain fog, and a host of other symptoms. Since I was a teenager, fatigue and anxiety have been a daily battle. In my early 30s, my blood pressure started to rise, and my cholesterol readings were high for my age. I started to develop a round middle so common in those with Type 2 diabetes. However, since 2010, with regular exercise and a healthier diet, I am happy to say that my blood pressure has gone from 140/90 to 110/75 and cholesterol has dropped from 212 to 187. I don’t let the arthritis in my spine stop me from exercising – exercise keeps my joints supple!
As for the fatigue, Zumba and Z Club NY classes woke me up! I used to have to push through the day on adrenaline and coffee in order to accomplish daily goals, but after starting Zumba, I suddenly realized that I could feel good all day long with a lot less stress and nervous energy – a huge realization that has changed my life. Not only that, but taking Zumba classes at Z Club NY held a mirror up to me so that I could see some strengths that I didn’t know I had.
Mentally and emotionally, I had often been plagued with self-sabotaging and perfectionistic thoughts like “you’re gonna mess up” and “you’ll look foolish.” And at first when I messed up, I often felt down and out of sorts for the rest of the Zumba class. More recently, even though I had been swing dancing for 14 years when I started to take Zumba at Z Club NY, I was often afraid to try hard enough to reach the top of my game. Zumba challenged me to learn and remember choreography at a manageable pace, an area that had always been anxiety provoking and frustrating to me and is probably what stopped me from pursuing dance earlier in life. My Zumba teacher pushed me to move beyond my fear and to do my best and recognized that it was more a lack of focus than lack of ability that kept me stuck. I realized that my lack of focus was partially due to fear, and when I let some of that go and just enjoyed myself with an active awareness, I started to remember choreography and entered a state of flow.
What inspires you to succeed in class and in your life?
I love to learn and improve myself. I mean, the desire to learn runs deep and is a necessity in my life. Also, I am socially motivated by a combination of healthy competition, supportive teamwork, and encouraging/developing others. I feel elated when I reach a goal in my life I never thought was possible – something I feared at one time but did anyway, only to grow as a result. When I see somebody who is more skilled than I am, I am less likely to become intimidated now, and more likely to become inspired and motivated to improve myself.
I used to give up much more easily when faced with a difficult obstacle because I never wanted to be a beginner and make mistakes. But now I understand just how important it is to make mistakes in order to learn, forgive yourself for being imperfect, and understand that it is all part of the process of personal growth – that experiencing uncomfortable emotions and facing your demons is often part of stretching outside your comfort zone to reach your goals.
Also, music is one of my great loves. I studied music for over 13 years before pursuing social dance. When I started to dance – combining music, rhythm, and movement – I felt like I had come home. Moving in unison with others and the music and expressing myself physically and rhythmically make me feel as though I am in love – the greatest motivator in human history. Also, Zumba’s use of Latin and world music help me feel more connected to the world beyond my immediate geographic area.
How has Zumba/Z Club NY supported your health and fitness goals?
My blood pressure and cholesterol have returned to healthy levels, and I have attained a level of athletic conditioning and motivation to continue exercising that I never thought I would reach. My main goal is to be a healthy, active octogenarian when the time comes – even though this is a lifetime away. I want to be that lady who can finish a half marathon at age 80. Also, I believe strongly that dance helps people keep their minds and bodies active, two essential ingredients in healthy aging.
What have you learned about yourself through taking classes at Z Club NY?
I have learned that with focus, confidence, and a willingness to come back and try again, I can overcome obstacles, tackle difficult sequences, and look and feel great while doing it. I have begun to learn to combine a sort of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours concept with John Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction, if that makes sense. This has extended to other parts of my life.
Which classes/Instructors are your favorites? Why?
Irena Meletiou is by far my favorite instructor. Her combination of gifted choreography, intuitive rhythm, exacting precision, and high level of cardio are not common in the fitness instruction world. In my work and life, I strive for the highest quality output, and my perfectionistic drive is compatible with her high expectations of her students in class. Having a background as a musician, and being completely in love with music, movement, and rhythm, I have found that Irena’s class has pushed me to focus in ways I had not realized I could… and actually, to quiet that inner tape recorder that kept telling me “you can’t do it. You’re gonna mess this one up” after seeing that yes, I CAN do it!
Xavier Marzan is also a favorite instructor of mine because he is a very versatile dancer and instills confidence and encourages self-expression in his students. After taking his class, not only could I remember the choreography, but I felt like I could choreograph an entire song by myself. His class helps me express myself from the inside out.
What is something unique about yourself that you’d like to share?
People tell me that I have an internal GPS – an excellent sense of direction. I tend to think I’ve been lucky. Maybe one day, this will come in handy!